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Contents Foreword List of Abbreviations Introduction Prophets and Prophetic Books The Prophetic Genre The Twelve or Just Twelve? The Prophets and Ethics Finding Meaning in Ancient Prophecy Nahum Introduction Introduction Literary Analysis Social and Historical Analysis Theological Analysis Commentary Superscription (Nah 1:1) A God of Power and Might (Nah 1:2-10) Yahweh's Response to Evil (Nah 1:11-14) The Assault of Nineveh (Nah 1:15-2:13 [Heb 2:1-14]) An Oracle against Nineveh (Nah 3:1-19) Habakkuk Introduction Introduction Literary Analysis Social and Historical Analysis Theological Analysis Commentary Superscription (Hab 1:1) Encounter between the Prophet and Yahweh (Hab 1:2-17) Another Encounter between Yahweh and the Prophet (Hab 2:1-20) Prayer of the Prophet (Hab 3:1-19) Zephaniah Introduction The Problem with Zephaniah Literary Analysis Social and Historical Analysis Theological Analysis Commentary Superscription (Zeph 1:1) Coming Punishment (Zeph 1:2-18) Call to Repentance (Zeph 2:1-3 ) Judgment on the Nations (Zeph 2:5-15) Woe and Salvation to Judah (and the Nations) (Zeph 3:1-13) Promises of Salvation for Judah (and the Nations?) (Zeph 3:14-20) Haggai Introduction Introduction Literary Analysis Social and Historical Analysis Theological Analysis Commentary Disputation over Building (Hag 1:1-11) The Community's Response (Hag 1:12-15) An Oracle in the Midst of Building (Hag 2:1-9) A Request for a Priestly Ruling (Hag 2:10-19) Oracle regarding Zerubbabel (Hag 2:20-23) Zechariah Introduction Introduction to Zechariah 1-8 Introduction Literary Analysis Social and Historical Analysis Theological Analysis Commentary on Zechariah 1-8 Introduction, connection Zerubbabel's work with the past (Zech 1:1-6) First Vision: Man on a Horse (Zech 1:7-17) Second Vision: Four Horns (Zech 1:18-21 [Heb 2:1-4]) Third Vision: Measuring Line (Zech 2:1-5 [Heb 2:5-9]) Oracle to the Exiles (Zech 2:6-13 [Heb 2:10-17]) Fourth Vision: The Satan (Zech 3:1-10) Fifth Vision: Lampstand, Olive trees, and Zerubbabel (Zech 4:1-14) Sixth Vision: Flying Scroll (Zech 5:1-4) Seventh Vision: Flying Ephah (Zech 5:5-11) Eighth Vision: Four Chariots (Zech 6:1-8) Oracle Regarding Joshua (Zech 6:9-15) Question regarding Fasting (Zech 7:1-7) Past Unfaithfulness (Zech 7:8-14) Zion's Future (Zech 8:1-8) The Present Situation (Zech 8:9-13) Past contrasted with the Present (Zech 8:14-17) Answer about Fasting (Zech 8:18-19) Zion's Future (Zech 8:20-23) Introduction to Zechariah 9-14 Commentary on Zechariah 9-14 Yahweh against the Nations (Zech 9:1-8) Yahweh to Save Jerusalem (Zech 9:9-17) Yahweh against the Shepherds (Zech 10:1-12) Shepherds of the Community (Zech 11:1-17) The Protection of Judah and Jerusalem (Zech 12:1-9) The Pierced One (Zech 12:10-14) The End of Idolatry and Prophecy (Zech 13:1-9) The Final Supremacy of Jerusalem (Zech 14:1-21) Malachi Introduction Introduction Literary Analysis Social and Historical Analysis Theological Analysis Commentary Superscription (Mal 1:1) People and God argue about Love (Mal 1:2-5) Priests and God argue about Respect (Mal 1:6-2:9) People and God argue about "Profaning the covenant of the Fathers" (Mal 2:10-16) People and God argue about God's Justice (Mal 2:17-3:5) People and God argue about Scarcity and Abundance (Mal 3:6-12) People and God argue about the Value of Serving God (Mal 3:13-4:3 [Heb 3:13- 21]) Closing Statements Connecting the Law and the Prophets (Mal 4:4 [Heb 3:22-24]) Theological Analysis Bibliography Introduction Nahum Habakkuk Zephaniah Haggai Zechariah Malachi Foreword (Note to CE: Insert AOTC Foreword as in other AOTC's) Foreword page 2 Foreword page 3 List of Abbreviations BHK Biblia Hebraica, ed. R. Kittel BHS Biblia Hebraica Stuttgartensia LXX Septuagint MT Masoretic Text Introduction Prophets and Prophetic Books Over the centuries, the Old Testament prophets have been understood in a wide variety of ways. In different times and places, prophets have been seen as predicting the future, as recording mystical experiences of the divine, as championing individual piety over religious ritual, as transmitting and enlivening religious tradition, and as crying for social justice. In contemporary scholarship, prophets are often portrayed as having interpreted the significance of world events for their own time--as inspired individuals who discerned for their religious communities the implications of current behavior for the present and for the future. These various understandings, however, have something important in common: their reconstructions of the biblical prophets rely heavily (and, for some, exclusively) on the interpretation of the books that bear their names. That is, the phenomenon of ancient Hebrew prophecy, however immediate and interpersonal it may have been, is mediated to contemporary persons through the documents now preserved and labeled as books of the prophets. Just how closely the current shape of the prophetic books corresponds to the ancient prophets themselves is a matter of great debate. Most scholars agree that the final forms of all of the prophetic books likely derive from periods much later than those described in their superscriptions--those informational openings that provide various types of information, including the prophet's name, background, and historical context. Within individual books, vocabulary and style shift, and different geographical and chronological settings are presupposed. The superscriptions themselves bear clues that they were written at a time later than that described within the books themselves. For example, Amos 1:1 explains that Amos spoke "two years before the earthquake," reflecting a post- earthquake perspective, and all of the prophetic superscriptions presuppose that the prophetic activity they document has ended. Because the superscriptions contain date formulae and descriptions of political history that parallel closely the schema presented in the Deuteronomistic History (the Books of Joshua, Judges, Samuel, and Kings), many scholars attribute them to a Deuteronomistic editor or, given their variety, to a series of like-minded editors. Although the Deuteronomistic origin of the superscriptions cannot be decisively defended, in their effect the superscriptions do forge a solid link between the Former Prophets and the Latter Prophets within the Jewish canon, setting prophets from different times and places into grand national history. Some redaction critics--scholars who study the process by which biblical books were edited--believe that the application of particular critical tools can unravel the stitching by which the prophetic books were woven together, separating the later additions from the original words of the prophet. This approach was especially prominent in the early- to mid-twentieth century, when some argued that redaction criticism could burn off the dross of the editor and leave behind the pure utterance of the man of God: Instead of viewing it [redaction criticism] as laying a rough hand on sacred and inviolable books, one should rather regard it as a reverent effort to give to us of this day the authentic messages of these inspired men just as they fell from their lips. (Calkins 1947, 7) Current trends in prophetic scholarship, however, have challenged redaction criticism's confidence that it can isolate the kernel of the book and especially its assumption that the "original" kernel preserves the oral speeches of a historical, individual prophet. Increasingly in prophetic studies, even those who remain open to the historical reality of prophets refuse to privilege the "original" layer of the book. Instead, they argue that editors and not prophets should be considered the authors of prophetic books. Editors may have used some traditional materials, but it was they who created books about prophets--addressing the needs of their own communities by crafting books for the sake of readers, not for the sake of historical accuracy. Given the distance between the "real" prophets and the final form of their books, then, the sense of immediacy that the prophetic books evoke--the feeling that one is hearing the words of inspired speakers--may derive more from their highly crafted poetic style than from their preservation of the original words of the prophets. That is, prophetic books have been constructed by their writers and editors to sound like the words of ancient prophets. Various literary techniques help the authors of the prophetic books achieve such effects. The labeling of the books as "words of God to the prophet" in the superscriptions, as well as the books' repeated use of "messenger speech" (in which the speaker reports the voice of God and the quotations often end with, "thus says Yahweh"), invites the reader to accept the materials contained as transcripts of conversations between God and the prophet. As Floyd (2000, 171) notes, the prophetic books also address a reader directly, as a prophet would have addressed a hearer. The Prophetic Genre Prophetic books might properly be said to constitute a genre of material: a distinctive category of composition. Each opens with a superscription, the function of which is manifold. Superscriptions link the material to follow with a concrete individual by giving the prophet's name and sometimes also that of the prophet's father or extended family. Most superscriptions also set the prophet within a particular historical context in the life of Israel or Judah by giving the names of native kings or foreign rulers. The superscriptions also grant the book to follow divine authority by identifying it as the "word" that came from Yahweh, as an "oracle" or as a "vision." The main body of prophetic books is devoted to speeches (with occasional narratives) that (1) announce punishment on Israel or Judah, (2) announce punishment on other nations, and/or (3) announce salvation to Israel or Judah. Many of the books end with an announcement of salvation. Stylistically, speeches within the prophetic books are often marked with a formula known as messenger speech. Just as messengers of ancient Near Eastern kings transmitted the wishes of their masters with "thus says King X," so too the prophetic words are marked with "thus says Yahweh." Together with the superscription, messenger speech instructs the reader to treat the words of the prophet as an accurate report of Yahweh's words in a particular time and place. Because a given book can contain material referring to time periods different than the one described in the superscription, a prophetic book often takes on a predictive tone as well; although the prophets are located in time and space, the divine perspective that the book records transcends the limits of temporality. Prophetic books are primarily in poetic form. Unlike the stories about prophets in the Deuteronomistic History, the prophetic books use a nonnarrative, evocative style. As in the Psalms and books such as Job, this poetry is characterized by parallelism, bold imagery, frequent metaphors, terseness of style, and nonstandard syntax. The prophetic materials use more hyperbole and shocking metaphors than other biblical poetry, however. The language is often crass--as when Jeremiah (chap. 2) compares Judah to a camel in heat and when Ezekiel describes in great detail the sexual appetites of Samaria and Jerusalem (Ezek 16, 23). The Twelve or Just Twelve? The particular prophetic books treated in this commentary are the final half of a collection called the Minor Prophets by Christians and the Book of the Twelve by Jews. Both labels reflect the fact that the books Hosea through Malachi are short-- the longest containing only fourteen chapters (Hosea and Zechariah), as compared to Isaiah's sixty-six. In Judaism, the Twelve are written on a single scroll; and in ancient descriptions of the canon, they were counted as a single book. Although these small books may have been so clustered because of their brevity and to economize on scroll production, some scholars have suggested that the individual prophetic materials were intentionally edited to be read as a single book. James Nogalski has most extensively explored the traces of redactional activity in the Minor Prophets that was undertaken to unify the Book of the Twelve (1993a; 1993b), though numerous other interpreters have argued that the Twelve presents a grand theological perspective. The arguments for the unity of the Twelve are not finally convincing. The superscriptions, for example, suggest that the final redactors of the books intended them to be read as separate compositions, as discrete words of God in unique times and places. That is not to imply, however, that the books are unrelated. Clearly, the prophetic books are highly similar in theme, style, and vocabulary; and books such as Zephaniah appear generically "prophetic." These similarities may derive from a common editor, but they may also indicate that the prophetic books were written, and circulated, within a small scribal circle. The Prophets and Ethics In the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, many Protestant interpreters identified the prophets as spokespersons for ethical monotheism. Against the background of a pantheistic ancient Near East and a syncretistic Israel, the prophets called their people to worship Yahweh alone and to treat one another with justice. Amos's rousing cry for justice to run down like waters (5:24) was seen by turn-of-the-twentieth-century Protestant interpreters as the voice of a moral revolutionary. Similarly, liberationist readings of the prophets in the mid- to late twentieth century found in the prophets champions of the poor and politically disenfranchised. By the late twentieth century, however, many interpreters described the prophets as ethically problematic. Feminist criticism, for example, highlighted that although the prophets may champion some of the oppressed, they also consistently use metaphors and other speech that denigrate women. As Judith Sanderson points out, Amos specifically condemned wealthy women for oppressing the poor (4:1) but failed specifically to champion the women among the poor. . . . As Amos singled out wealthy women--a small group--for special condemnation, a balanced analysis would also have singled out poor women--a much larger group--for special defense and a show of that solidarity of which he was so clearly capable. (1992, 206) Twentieth-century experiences of war and of the Holocaust also drew greater attention to the violence of the prophetic books and to their ideologically dualistic world. Nahum, for example, not only revels in the image of Nineveh's destruction, but also portrays the world as in a struggle between "us" and "them." In this way, it resonates with the physical and ideological battles between Israelis and Palestinians, Hutus and Tutsis, Serbs and Croats, "terrorists" and "the West"-- battles that are overly familiar in the modern world. The books addressed here have fared especially poorly in the estimation of interpreters over the ages. Apart from isolated quotes taken out of context (for example, Habakkuk on "faith"), these six have been either ignored or denigrated: Nahum has been demeaned for its violence, Zephaniah for its vision of a vengeful God, Haggai and Zechariah for their support of the establishment, and Second Zechariah for its apocalypticism. The goal of this commentary is not to "rehabilitate" these prophets or to argue for their worth. Rather, it seeks to engage their language, their assumptions, and their possible background so that a reader might engage the books in an attitude of respect--remaining open to the possibility that these books might critique us as much as we critique them. Finding Meaning in Ancient Prophecy In their attempts to find contemporary meaning in prophetic books, many interpreters treat the words of the prophets as timeless advice to the people of God. The names of contemporary communities and individuals are simply substituted for the prophets' descriptions of "Israel," "Judah," and "Jerusalem." In this understanding, the prophetic announcements apply directly to the contemporary synagogue or church, or even to a contemporary nation. Habakkuk's promises to those who remain faithful (2:4), Haggai's linking of religious obligation with material success (1:7-11), and Malachi's insistence on the paying of tithes (3:8-12) are understood as God's word to all people in all times and places. This way of reading, for all of its apparent appeal, fails to take seriously the material's compositional history. As suggested above, the prophetic books are largely retrospective, as writers or editors presented what God had done and said in the past as a means to communicate with their own people. Moreover, the universalization of the prophetic message ignores the self- presentation of the prophetic books. These books present themselves as historically contextual works. All have superscriptions that ground the book in time and place, and most are peppered with "historical" references and narratives. The superscriptions appear to be reading instructions. The prophetic message is to be interpreted within a concrete historical context. Readers are instructed to consider what God spoke through a prophet to a specific community in the past. Perhaps, as for original readers, the task is then to discern what significance the ancient message has for the contemporary scene. The historicized nature of the prophetic books invites a contextualized theology as well. By stressing the importance of the time period in which the prophets delivered the divine message, they suggest that God does not speak the same word in all times and places. In that way, they work against any theology that would define God's nature in static terms. These six books, set in the Assyrian, Babylonian, and Persian periods, depict God in various ways--as angry, as powerful, as jealous, as hurt, as caring, as tender. This exploration of their message and their style will attempt to hear the distinctive voice of each.
Library of Congress Subject Headings for this publication: Bible, O, T, Minor Prophets Commentaries